Top 8 Political Scandals in France

The internet is abuzz with gossip about French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his singer-model wife Carla Bruni. An incident in case being the President’s alleged drunken speech at the G8 summit.

But over the years, various French politicians have been involved in much more serious scandals that have been widely reported in the French and international media. Between the 80’s and 90’s, abuse of public money and election rigging topped the list of scandals. Here’s a list of the top political scandals that challenged the French people’s trust in France’s political system.

Navigation Menu of the Top 10 Political Scandals in France

1. The Generals Affair
2. Ben Barka Affair
3. Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior
4. Infected Blood Scandal
5. City of Paris Gardening Services Scandal
6. Voting Scandal in the 5th Arrondissement
7. The Clearstream Affair
8. Angolagate

More Political Scandals

1. The Generals’ Affair – 1949 -1950

The Generals’ Affair was a political-military scandal that took place during the First Indo-China War that lasted from September 1949 to November 1950. French General George Revers was sent to Indo-China to study the situation and prepare a military and political report. His recommendations revealed a very pessimistic picture of the French position on Indo-China, which was contrary to Paris’s official optimism. The real scandal exploded when the secret report fell into the hands of Vietminh who broadcasted parts of the report, humiliating the French.

On further enquiry, it was found that Revers was not an expert on military issues but only a reserve army officer with an impressive track record. The report had been leaked by a second man, an alleged spy and Revers’ friend Roger Pyre. It eventually fell into Vietminh’s hands where sections of it were revealed. The report was also aired in France by their first news magazine, L’Express.

2. Ben Barka Affair – 1965

Mehdi Ben Barka, Moroccan politician and head of left-wing National Union of Popular Forces, went missing on October 29, 1965. He had been exiled from Morocco after openly supporting Algeria. It was alleged that he had been kidnapped by French police officers, who were helped by Moroccan agents. The involvement of the French Intelligence was subsequently proved. After the disappearance was publicized widely by the media, President De Gaulle made a formal statement that his government was not involved.

After trials in 1967, two French police officers were sent to prison for their part in the kidnapping. While judges deemed Moroccan Minister Mohamed Oufkir, the mastermind behind Ben Barka’s abduction and murder guilty, French Prefect of Police Maurice Papon was also forced to resign after the incident.

3. Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior – 1985

In the 1980s, Greenpeace tried to thwart France’s efforts of developing and testing nuclear warheads. Greenpeace had decided to lead yachts to the French Polynesian atoll, the site of the testing, in protest. When they learned of this protest, the French Intelligence Services tried to sink the flagship of the Greenpeace fleet in the port of Auckland, New Zealand. But photographs of the scene led to the arrest of two French agents by the New Zealand police. It was a known fact that New Zealand was opposed to the development of nuclear weapons and on the other hand, it was an ally of France.

What made matters worse was that France initially denied the accusations. However, later in 2005, Admiral Pierre Lacoste, Head of Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure confessed that the attack was authorized by the then French President François Mitterrand.

4. Infected Blood Scandal – 1991

In a tragic incident, between 1984 and 1985, hemophiliac patients in France contracted AIDS after being treated with non heat-treated blood products. The infected blood scandal became public after a journalist and doctor Anne Casteret wrote for a weekly magazine about how the Centre National de Transfusion Sanguine distributed the blood products knowing that they were not heat treated correctly.

After subsequent investigations, in 1999, former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, Health Minister Edmond Herve and Social Affairs Minister Georgina Dufoix and were arrested on charges of manslaughter.

5. City of Paris Gardening Services Scandal – 2004

In 2004, Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoe alleged that the members of the political party Rally for the Republic (RPR) had used the City of Paris gardening services for private purposes free of cost. More than €700,000 of public funds was spent in beautifying gardens of party members in upscale Parisian suburbs. They even enjoyed free gardening services from City of Paris employees. City supplies were also used for private gardening use.

6. Voting Scandal in the 5th Arrondissement – 2005

In this controversy, a French Mayor devised an innovative method of rigging the local elections. The 5th arrondissement/administrative district voting scandal involved Mayor Jean Tiberi and his wife Xavière Tiberi. On their instructions, 7,228 people were illegally registered in the 5th arrondissement in 1997 out of which 3,315 cast their votes when Jean Tiberi was elected Deputy with a lead of 2,725 votes.

A criminal investigation was launched against Tiberi in 2005 for his role in the fraudulent voting incident.

7. The Clearstream Affair – 2007

This political scandal in 2007 revolved around the Luxembourg bank Clearstream Banking S.A., which allegedly helped many prominent French politicians and companies to evade taxes. A list of private accounts held by French individuals at Clearstream was sent anonymously to investigating magistrate Renaud van Ruymbeke on four different occasions. The lists were proved to be false and the people named on them, including French politician Nicolas Sarkozy, who was then preparing for his Presidential campaign, pressed charges for false accusations.

It was later revealed that Dominique de Villepinhad, Interior Minister and Sarkozy’s rival, was aware of the lists being forged but had not passed on the information to Judge van Ruymbeke. He was subsequently tried at the Paris Correctional Court in September and October 2009.

8. Angolagate – 1990s

Perhaps one of the biggest political scandals ever to occur in France, Angolagate involved arms-oil exchange deals between Pierre Falcone, the Head of Brenco International, a colleague called Jean Christophe Mitterand, and Arkadi Gaydamak, an Israeli born in Russia.

Gaydamak channeled billions in arms and oil collateral loans to Angola’s government and got high value oil contracts with oil companies from West in return. Gaydamak and Falcone were successful in transferring 463 million dollars as arms to Angola, thanks to the connections that Mitterand had with the Angolan government.

Mitterand was given a two-year suspended sentence and fined €375,000 in 2009.

After ex-President Jacques Chirac’s indictment, many more political-financial scandals involving the government have come to the forefront. Current President Nicolas Sarkozy, in his election campaign had vowed to fight corruption in the government and execute stringent action against those involved in political scandals.

It has been three years since he was elected but how exactly he plans on fulfilling his electoral promise is yet to become clear. Do you think the current French government has any real intent of fighting corruption, or will it remain just another unfulfilled electoral promise?